Carjacking Laws in California Under Penal Code 215
California Penal Code 215 PC describes the felony crime of carjacking as taking a motor vehicle from someone using force or fear.
Under this statue, using “force or fear” means one must actually inflict physical force, or make threats to cause harm on the victim.
PC 215 can be charged if the victim is the driver or passenger, and they don't have to be the actual owner of the vehicle.
A carjacking conviction carries severe penalties, along with a “strike” under California's three strikes law, and can be enhanced if a defendant:
- used a weapon,
- caused an injury on the victim.
- committed the crime for benefit a criminal street gang.
In most cases, a defendant would be required to serve at least 85% of their sentence before becoming eligible for parole.
Our Los Angeles criminal defense lawyers are providing a detailed review below for readers concerning California carjacking charges.
Brief History of Vehicle Thefts
Among all the valuable things that people own and that a thief could readily transport away, a vehicle is a most obvious thing.
Thieves can easily and quickly drive vehicles long distances away for concealment, storage, modification, and resale. Vehicle theft is indeed a huge industry and expensive problem.
The Insurance Information Institute calculates the 2019 cost of U.S. vehicle thefts at $6.4 billion, involving 721,885 vehicles at an average loss of $8,886 per vehicle.
Anyone who has had a vehicle stolen knows the shock, violation, and cost of losing property of such value and, with it, losing critical transportation.
In the early 1990s, Americans were losing well over 1.5 million vehicles annually to theft.
Vehicle anti-theft systems and other technologies have helped, but investigation, detection, and prosecution of vehicle theft crimes have led the way in discouraging vehicle theft.
But those same anti-theft systems may have fueled a new carjacking problem.
The Carjacking Problem in California
While any vehicle theft is a serious problem for the vehicle owner, the stakes are must higher when the vehicle's owner is still in the vehicle when the thief acts.
That action, depriving the owner of the vehicle when the owner is still in or about it is the essence of carjacking.
Yet ejecting the owner is exactly the carjacking problem. Ejecting or resisting the owner requires:
- the threat of force, or
- some similar duress or coercion.
Owners do not simply hand their vehicle keys to thieves. Carjacking's violation of the owner's safety and autonomy, and its risk of serious injury or worse, is in part why carjacking is its own crime.
For the thief, carjacking is a natural over other forms of vehicle theft. The owner's presence in or near the vehicle defeats the vehicle's anti-theft systems.
The thief has little more to do than get in the vehicle and drive off after ejecting the owner.
Indeed, the rise in carjacking's may be due in part to the increased effectiveness of anti-theft vehicle systems, as a Los Angele Police Department carjacking prevention guide speculates.
If a thief can't steal a vehicle unless the owner is present to disable anti-theft systems, then the thief must wait for the owner's presence.
Indeed, according to one report, a new, pandemic-driven phenomenon exists: carjacking delivery vehicles.
The same report cites local crime reporting data indicating sharp increases in carjacking's generally during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Carjacking is a crime that legislatures take a particular interest in discouraging.
What is the Definition of PC 215 Carjacking?
California statute gives the violent crime of carjacking a relatively long definition, indicating that prosecutors have several distinct elements (CALCRIM 1650) to prove beyond a reasonable doubt.
California Penal Code 215 PC defines carjacking as:
- “The felonious taking of a motor vehicle in the possession of someone in their immediate presence, or from the passenger, against their will, with intent to temporarily or permanently deprive them possession of the motor vehicle, accomplished by means of force or fear.”
From this definition, California Criminal Jury Instruction 1650 draws these elements, evidence for which the prosecution must show to support a carjacking charge and of which the prosecution must convince a jury beyond a reasonable doubt, that the defendant:
- took a motor vehicle;
- took the motor vehicle from the immediate presence of a person possessing it or being its passenger;
- took the vehicle against the possessor's will;
- used force or fear to take the vehicle or prevent resistance;
- when using force or fear, the defendant intended to deprive the possessor of the vehicle; and
- the defendant formed that intent before or during the use of force or fear.
Federal Carjacking Law - 18 U.S.C. § 2119
Federal law also defines carjacking as a federal crime.
However, given Congress's limited commerce clause authority, under 18 U.S.C. § 2119, the federal crime requires taking a motor vehicle that has shipped in interstate or foreign commerce.
Most vehicles ship in interstate or foreign commerce, making a federal charge possible.
Yet federal carjacking also requires the defendant's intent to cause death or serious bodily harm, a requirement absent under state carjacking charges.
Thus, state law enforcement pursues carjacking charges far more often than do federal authorities.
What are the Penalties for PC 215 Carjacking Charges?
California Penal Code 215 makes carjacking a felony crime punishable by:
- three, five, or nine years in a California state prison, or
- probation and up to one year in the county jail, and
- a fine up to $10,000.
Kidnapping during carjacking – PC 209.5
Yet Penal Code 209.5 increases carjacking's penalty to life imprisonment, with the possibility of parole, when the charge is that the defendant committed a kidnapping during a carjacking.
The California Department of Corrections explains that the convicted defendant is eligible for parole on a life sentence after the defendant has served the minimum number of years on the sentence imposed.
Thus, if the carjack kidnapping sentence was fifteen years to life, parole would be possible after fifteen years.
Parole, though, is discretionary with the parole board, so that a carjack-kidnapping conviction may mean imprisonment until death.
Great bodily injury – PC 12022.7
If the defendant caused someone to suffer a great bodily injury (GBI), they are facing an additional three to six years in prison under California Penal Code 12022.7 PC great bodily injury enhancement.
Criminal street gang – PC 186.22
If a prosecutor is able to prove you committed carjacking for the benefit of a criminal street gang, a defendant is facing an additional fifteen years to life to prison under California Penal Code 186.22 PC gang enhancement law.
Felony murder rule
If a defendant, while committing a carjacking, unintentionally kills someone, then the California's felony-murder rule will hold them responsible for first-degree murder.
How Can I Fight Carjacking Charges?
If you are facing Penal Code 215 PC carjacking charges, our Los Angeles criminal defense lawyers can aggressively defend these charges on the facts. Some of the common defenses include:
- no force or fear was used,
- victim gave consent,
- mistaken identity,
- false accusation.
Skilled cross-examination can challenge eyewitnesses who make mistaken identifications and observations.
Evidence may support defenses of consent to the vehicle's use or ownership or other rightful possession of the vehicle.
Carjacking charges also implicate constitutional rights and criminal procedures that ensure due process, rights that include a right against unreasonable search and seizure and right to counsel.
We might be able to make a move to suppress incriminating evidence gained from a violation of these rights.
Criminal procedures also offer preliminary examination, motions to dismiss charges, and other processes to acquire exonerating evidence while challenging false allegations.
Best Criminal Defense for California Carjacking Charges
Carjacking crimes carry severe penalties and collateral consequences. Charges of a serious crime compel retaining our skilled Los Angeles criminal defense attorneys to defend the charges.
Negotiation with the prosecutor may lead to charge dismissal, charge reductions, plea bargains, or alternatives to prosecution, including early disposition court or pretrial diversion.
Through prefiling intervention, we might ab able to convince the prosecutor to avoid the formal filing of charges before court.
Eisner Gorin LLP is a top-ranked criminal defense law firm serving clients in Southern California, including Los Angeles County, Orange County, Ventura County, Hollywood, Santa Monica, Pasadena, Riverside, and San Bernardino.
Our law firm is located at 1999 Avenue of the Stars, 11th Fl., Los Angeles, CA 90067.
Our main office is in the San Fernando Valley next to the Van Nuys Superior Court at 14401 Sylvan St #112 Van Nuys, CA 91401.
Contact our office for an initial consultation at (877) 781-1570.